Meet Shinshinim, Shani & Bar
The JCC of Greater Baltimore is thrilled to have two Israeli high school graduate-emissaries on its team this year — Shani Kalmanovich and Bar Ling. Shani and Bar work at the JCC three days a week as part of an expanded “Shinshinim” program sponsored by the Jewish Agency of Israel, funded in part through The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and locally facilitated by The Louise D. & Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education. (Shinshinim stands for Shnat Sherut, which translates to a year of service in Hebrew).
Shani and Bar deferred army service for a year to volunteer in the Baltimore Jewish community in response to an identified need in Israeli society for more professional training for young, motivated Israelis. The Baltimore Jewish community has welcomed another six shinshinim in different organizations across the Greater Baltimore region.
“Our goal has been to integrate Shani and Bar into the many youth programs at the J, ranging from preschool to teens. In our Early Childhood Education Centers, for instance, they do activities designed to introduce our youngest children at the J to Israeli culture through experiential play and imagination,” says Melissa Seltzer, Senior Director of J Kids Baltimore, who oversees their programs at the JCC.
“We’ve encouraged Shani and Bar to really build relationships with the children. The goal is for the kids to get a sense of what life is like in Israel through shared activities and fond memories created together.” Twice a week Shani and Bar join the J’s Kid’s Center after school program where they “transport” the children to Israel through experiential education. On select Wednesday evenings they share their culture and experiences with the teens from the J’s Middle School Leadership Council.
Far from the Israeli kibbutz where she lives with her family, Shani has also worked as a counselor at a sleepaway camp in Pennsylvania.
“Every morning,” she recalls, “I woke up happy and excited to work and I wanted another positive experience. I thought being a part of the Shinshinim program was the way to go.”
The whole J Community has been so amazing
Shani says, “The whole J Community has been so amazing, warm, and loving and this journey has been life changing. I am learning so much about working with young children, about myself and about Jewish life in Baltimore.”
After living with Jewish Community Services staff member Amy Steinberg and her daughter Sydnie, Shani now resides in Pikesville with J members Robin and Jason Katcoff. In a typical week she’ll come to the J with Robin at 5:30am for Group Fitness classes, as well as go to synagogue with the Katcoffs on a Friday night at Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore City.
Shani and Bar get around Baltimore in their own cars, which the Jewish Agency provides. They have opportunities to explore the surrounding area as well as easy commutes to work.
Bar comes to the J from a town near Haifa, Israel. He has been a scout his entire life and was eager to share some of his experiences with young JCC students.
“It’s truly amazing to work with young children who are so eager to learn. I am impressed by how strong the Jewish community is in Baltimore – especially the Associated and the JCC,” he says.
Both Shani and Bar now teach several classes in the J’s preschools, as well as Sunday Hebrew School classes at Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
We feel empowered by Baltimore’s Jewish community
Bar says, “We feel empowered by Baltimore’s Jewish community. Everyone here is helping us to do the best we can, pushing us forward, and then on Shabbat, we get out of work and relax. We get to be with our families.”
When Bar first arrived in Baltimore, he lived with JCC Early Childhood Education Centers Senior Director, Carly Schwartz and her husband Mike. Now, Bar is living with Pikesville residents Julie and David August.
Bar is fascinated by the cohesiveness of the diverse Jewish community here. “In Baltimore,” he says, “the different streams of Judaism come together, where in Israel the secular and Orthodox communities are more separate.”
Bar loves the fact that there is something to do almost every night in Jewish Baltimore: “From Sukkah City to the Challah Bake, to events with the J’s My Tribe to Friday night dinners with Towson University, Goucher College, and Pearlstone – it is so much fun!”
Shani and Bar are two of the eight Shinshinim that make up the Shinshinim Hub. Baltimore was selected as one of the five communities to facilitate this hub. Together, the eight shinshinim reach well over 3500 community members with their message about Israeli spirit and connection.
“We have been so inspired by the incredible work Shani and Bar have done here. They have shared meaningful lessons with our JCC children and created beautiful exhibits in our lobbies to bring Israel alive during the Jewish holidays. We are so excited for the second half of their year with us,” says Melissa.